“I have been to disaster areas all over the world,” says Shigeru Ban. But never had the Japanese architect and veteran relief worker seen the degree of devastation that struck his homeland on March 11, 2011. The 9.0-magnitude earthquake, followed by the massive tsunami that crashed down on 311 miles of coastline, left thousands of people dead or missing and many more homeless. “This tsunami was incredible,” says Ban. “It came nine minutes after the earthquake, so there was no time to escape.”
As in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and other countries where he has helped out, Ban immediately went to the disaster site and identified a need that was not being met by government agencies or nonprofit groups. While evacuation centers quickly sprang up in gymnasiums and other large structures throughout the blighted region, many were crowded and had little provision for much-needed privacy — a condition that will continue for months, until the government completes temporary homes for the victims. In response, Ban devised a curtained partition system to shield individual families.